On the heels of a historic election cycle, a Western Carolina University faculty member is being honored for his research and resulting book into the history of the most rapidly growing electoral group in America.
Ben Francis-Fallon, an associate professor of history, is the winner of The Huntington Library’s inaugural Shapiro Book Prize for his “The Rise of the Latino Vote: A History,” published by Harvard University Press.
“The book really tries to explain the invention of this thing that we now call the Latino vote,” said Francis-Fallon. “It looks at how various political actors over a 25-year span tried to mold all Mexican Americans, Puerto Ricans, Cubans and other peoples of Latin American origins into a single constituency in the United States.
“There’s no question about it, one of the takeaways (from the 2020 presidential election) is how varied Latino political communities have been and continue to be,” he said. “While they are often brought into political conversations with one another, the Rio Grande Valley in south Texas is a very different constituency than the Bronx in New York City, or that found in Miami. So, when some locations known as largely Latino went for one candidate and other places were mostly for the other, it reflected that great diversity of Latino political communities.”
Francis-Fallon will be formally presented the prize, given for an outstanding first book on American history and culture, on Wednesday, Feb. 3, during a webinar. The Huntington is one of the largest repositories of American historical materials in the nation and includes expansive and diverse holdings in history, literature and high and popular culture. The educational institution, located in San Marino, California, features a library, botanical gardens, exhibition space, art galleries and research facilities.
“It has been an honor and a delight to facilitate the selection process for the Shapiro Prize in its inaugural year,” said Steve Hindle, The Huntington’s W.M. Keck Foundation director of research. “We were thrilled with the response - 60 superb early-career works were nominated by publishers. My heartfelt congratulations go out to Benjamin Francis-Fallon, who has produced a deeply researched, cogently written and profoundly topical volume, and my deepest thanks go to the prize committee, who have worked assiduously to bring us to this happy day.”
Established as a part of the Shapiro Center for American History and Culture at The Huntington, the prize carries with it a $10,000 cash award. A committee of preeminent scholars in the field made the selection.
“The Rise of the Latino Vote: A History,” looks at the national emergence of Latino political power during the turbulent 1960s and 1970s, the foundations of a common political identity and how it’s transforming the electoral landscape. Francis-Fallon utilized archival records of civil rights activists, Latino elected officials, six U.S. presidents and a host of federal agencies. He reveals a vast and sprawling demographic, at times able to form alliances and at others strongly divided by national origin, immigration status, region, and ideology.
“The process of bringing Latinos into the nation’s politics forced everyone involved to reckon with their tremendous diversity, with some promoting unity among Latino communities while others sought to fragment them for political gain,” Francis-Fallon said. “I am incredibly honored to be the recipient of this award.”